Innovation That Matters

The Xtrude Zero can reduce plastic waste by recycling and sanitising used face masks. | Photo source James Dyson Award

Students design automated face mask recycling system

Architecture & Design

The machine is designed to take in face masks and turn out reusable plastic pellets

Spotted: The COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently created a huge waste problem, sending an estimated 129 billion face masks to landfills every month. Two students at the Warsaw University of Technology have won a national Dyson award for their design of a machine to disinfect and recycle surgical face masks and reduce this plastic waste.   

Dubbed the Xtrude Zero, the machine is designed to take in face masks and turn out reusable plastic pellets. Once inserted into the machine, masks are cut apart and their layers (which are made of different types of plastic) are separated, then shredded. The shredded fragments are then fed into a heating element, forming a continuous strand of filament. This filament is later cut into pellets using a rotary blade. Finally, the pellets fall through a beam of UV light for disinfection before being collected in a container. 

The students came up with their idea after building a print farm that made face shields for medical use during the pandemic. The project drew attention to the sheer amount of plastic waste that was generated from the mask and shield production process. As a result, the students decided to brainstorm ways of giving the plastic waste a “second life.” 

The students described the development process in their Dyson Award entry, writing, “We tried everything we could, from ironing to melting and heat binding, yet nothing seemed to quite work. … After experimenting further with the face masks, we came up with the idea of creating a desktop-sized machine, which would melt the face masks down into a 3D printing filament… We decided to take the idea and modify it to fit our three main criteria. That’s when we came up with the idea for XTRUDE ZERO.” 

As the collective drive to combat global warming increases, a growing number of people are working to eliminate or reduce plastic waste. Springwise has covered many of the most innovative proposals, including turning plastic waste into faux leather and using mussels to clean up microplastics. 

Written By: Lisa Magloff

Explore more: Sustainability



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